Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
TV detector van (wikipedia.org)
151 points by rishabhd on Aug 8, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 327 comments

I lived in a flat in England in the early 2000s which kept getting letters from the BBC saying we didn't have a TV licence. The letters were sometimes more threatening for a period, then sometimes more reconciliatory.

They were also running TV adverts at the time claiming they had detector vans about, and if you didn't have a licence you'd be caught. I did some research at the time, and it seemed that evidence from a detector van had never been submitted as evidence in court cases for those without a licence.

It didn't take long to realise in the age of databases, it's easier just to send out scary letters to all address without a registered licence and hope there will be some 'conversion rate'. The effort required to actually chase on this seemed disproportional to the benefits.

And for those wondering, I did have a licence, it's just the address the BBC had for the flat was subtly different to the one on the bit of paper. I had hoped that they would follow up with a more detailed investigation, so I could see how it worked and ask about the vans, but they never did.

The ads were hugely dystopian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NmdUcmLFkw

I am an ex-pat and as an adult I am have become quite disillusioned with the UK and glad to have gotten out a decade ago. I miss nothing about England except my friends, and I'd feel sorry for them, but they all seem mostly happy with life.

Paying a license to have a TV (and it's assumed you must watch TV), opt in porn on the internet, CCTV everywhere, braying in parliament, not to mention the whole Brexit shit-show, I find little to admire about the UK.

I don't begrudge the TV licence too much. I used to, and then I moved to Ireland - where I pay a roughly equivalent amount for a roughly equivalent licence, which funds RTÉ (and tg4? unclear) with nowhere near the same results. And still ads.

It turns out the better half of Europe has TV licences in one form or another - but for some reason, we never hear about them. When the UK has to fund a state broadcaster, it's dystopian. When everyone else does it, it's business as usual.

( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_licence )

The rest of Europe has always looked at the BBC as a model (if not THE model) of public-service broadcasting. I honestly don't understand why it's so controversial inside Britain - or rather I do, and it's not a pretty sight (the criticism comes from people with other interests in manipulating public discourse through the media, like a certain infamous Australian and his tabloid pals).

The real cancer of UK society is the tabloid press, now mutating into socialmedia-powered viral linkfarms. The BBC is absolutely fine.

What's dystopian is not the tv license, is their style of public communication. In general public communication in the UK feels sometimes very direct and almost threatening. The sense of authority and hierarchy implied is palpable. Not for nothing the UK is source of some wonderful parodies on the theme: for example the Scarfolk series:


Or one of my favourite Monthy Python sketches:

"How not to be seen": https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGv8oAHxekU

Or the anti-piracy ad from the IT crowd:


The enforcement actions and publicizing of the license in the UK seem to be the most dystopian, in Ireland it's a bit over the top as well

But you're right, it is present in multiple countries, I think Germany and France just turned it into a household fee

In Italy it has been merged into electricity bills. I kid you not. And of course, the state broadcaster (RAI) is still chock-full of ads on all its channels. This is because it's not a media organisation as much as a cash-machine for aides and cronies of the government du-jour, with each channel literally allocated informally to each major party. You can imagine the average production quality.

Same for RTS in Serbia, worse even because not only do we HAVE to pay the TV license via power bill, or get sued and have power cut off (I kid you not, because of the TV license fee!) (happened to me), RTS also has 8 commercial channels that are funded from the public's money, which are only available on select cable networks.

It's RTS 1, RTS 2, RTS 3, RTS HD (which is redundant since the 3 channels are already in Full HD), and then RTS 24/7, RTS Drama, RTS Archive, RTS Music, RTS Life, RTS Kids, RTS Music 2, RTS VOD and RTS SVOD, RTS [something I can't translate] (all names are translated from Serbian).

The TV service is the only one with HD terrestrial broadcasting, and yet it's production quality is absolute garbage (I mean literally, the video quality is absolutely terrible, I'm not even talking about the topics they deal with).

Basically, a money sink and waste of time. People who have SBB (United Group) watch N1 (CNN affiliate) in Full HD (with 30 Mbps bitrate, compared to 4 Mbps for RTS 1 HD).

People who don't have SBB cable, are stuck with the low level garbage channels from our state broadcaster.

Turkey does the electricity bill thing too.

"enforcement" consists of them sending you nasty letters, then after after 6 months knocking on the door and asking "sir do you own a television set"

to which my response was "sod off", and they did

repeat again every 5 years

the only way of that happening is if they happen to observe you being naughty (i.e. live TV through the window when they call), or you admit to being naughty when they ask their questions

as someone who hasn't watched broadcast TV in years (or iplayer): I'm not worried

Ah yes I wouldn't worry if I didn't have a TV.

I think there’s talk of moving to a household fee here too. Oddly, making it universal seems to be more acceptable than a consumption tax. On one hand, I can see the plus sides - there’s a lot more ways to consume national broadcasters now, and it seems strange that I should pay to receive the national broadcaster on my TV, but if I scrapped the TV and watched it on my laptop, I wouldn’t (I know the UK complicates that further than we do).

On the hand, it feels unintuitive that there’s now no way to opt out. But I’m not sure how we delineate universal taxes (eg, my taxes pay for schools but I don’t use them) vs consumption taxes (I don’t pay road tax because I don’t drive). We still ultimately need to pay for them somehow - I don’t drive, but I still depend on roads.

IIRC (and this was dear to my heart in the UK as a non-motor-vehicle-driving taxpayer), road tax isn't a thing. There's vehicle excise duty, but that's not earmarked for roads (since 1937, according to https://ipayroadtax.com/no-such-thing-as-road-tax/bring-back...).

Also: "The maintenance and improvement of these roads are funded through local council taxes, fees, and central government grants." - https://www.loc.gov/law/help/infrastructure-funding/englanda...

So rest assured that if you pay tax in the UK, you pay for roads along with other infrastructure and services.

And now for something completely different... I recall being told, by a man who knocked on my door in a college residence, that the van had detected my television. I had no television set. He asked to come in and look. I declined and he went away. Either enforcement by deception, or a creep using a pretext to get into womens' college rooms. Either way, bad!

I do miss the BBC website without ads and BBC iPlayer though. We had a television in later years (and a license).

>> It turns out the better half of Europe has TV licences in one form or another - but for some reason, we never hear about them.

It's probably because in the rest of Europe national broadcasters don't badger you to pay a license even if you don't actually own a TV set.

In the UK, I get threatening red-lettered envelopes every few years- because it's easier to harass me by mail than to try and figure out whether I watch TV or not.

And the threat is quite real. The broadcaster can send people to your house to snoop around, to see if you have a TV set or not. These agents are known to take liberties with the extend of their power (they will allege that they can enter your property whether you agree to let them in, or not) and there is basically nothing stopping them from stating that you are watching a TV programme as it is being broadcast if you have have equipment capable of doing so, such as a computer, or just a smartphone.

Basically, the TV licensing people in the UK are convinced that, if you say that you do not watch TV you are lying, and they treat you as an offender by default.

Does any of this happen in any other European country?

In my country (Italy) we kept receiving threatening letters as well as random phone calls, sometimes even attempted inspections although unless they came with the police and a warrant you simply wouldn't let them in. Some context: the original law declared the tax was due for state owned TV reception, so when in the late 70s to 80s private owned TV stations boomed, some people modified their TV sets so that the state TV could not be received. Problem solved? Nope! the government promptly modified the tax into a more general tax. The text is so vague that it could be applied to cellphones and computers too, although they always told that's not the case, but the vague text remains. Anyways, letters, phonecalls and random visits went on for decades, then a few years back a genius politician solved the problem by integrating the TV tax within the electricity bill. If you don't own a TV set (and know your rights) you can still declare that and get the amount cut from the bill, but that will ensure an inspection will follow.

Thanks. In Greece also (where I'm originally from) the TV tax is rolled in to the electricity bill and you can opt out. I haven't heard of any inspections but that's because nothing works in the Greek public sector. Or anywhere in the whole country.

Are you arguing that because other countries do the same observing the UK has a totalitarian approach to TV licensing is a non-issue?

Also, my point was the advertising specifically, and attitude generally was dystopic, a la 1984. I am unaware of any other countries injecting that kind of narrative into their culture.

I hardly ever watch broadcast TV, but I don't mind paying the licence fee for the BBC website and radio stations.

There are plenty of things to dislike about the UK, but that seems like an odd list of things to highlight.

The porn opt-in thing has been pushed back for a year or two and will be quietly shelved when it's realised it's unworkable.

The supposedly omnipresent CCTV invariably seems to have been lost or turned off if you actually need to figure out e.g. who has nicked your bike.

I will grant you the Brexit shit-show, however; that is genuinely horrific.

> The porn opt-in thing has been pushed back for a year or two and will be quietly shelved when it's realised it's unworkable.

Actually it's 'indefinitely postponed now, after it was realised about the end of June that it was a violation of EU law (also, it was May's baby, and she's gone, Boris is a pro-porn kinda guy).

You don't have to pay for a license for a TV, you just tell them you don't watch live broadcast/streaming and they send a letter every free years.

All years are free if you don't pay for a license for a TV ;)

There's plenty to complain about re: the UK, but none of what you're complaining about is unique to the UK, or even uncommon (except for opt-in porn, that one's odd)

Most other countries with public broadcasting just roll the "TV license" into your taxes. CCTV everywhere (that the government can afford to put it) is commonplace in most countries (the USA being something of an exception).

Politicians acting like children is standard. In fact, I'd say that it's a desired feature of the Westminster System. Question Time/PMQs, although sometimes childish, serve an important role in the democratic process and open government. At least filibusters aren't commonplace, unlike in the USA.

I think this argument is a form of logical fallacy. I'd complain about any country that equated to the UK in some way. No country is perfect, some appeal to me more than others, countries like the UK do not and their implementation of governance conflicts with my principles.

Where did you move to?


Here in Canada we all get taxed for CBC, including people with no TV or radio.

What I have found with ex-pats is they left somewhere and feel free to criticise it and give these as reasons they are glad they left. They also ignore similar issues in their new nation or ignore other aspects of their new nation. Arguing that they are not responsible for that as an ex-pat.

Not labelling all expats like this but the vocal ones tend to be like this.

This is true.

I don't know where you moved to, but is the US anything admirable lately? Guess I should cross the UK off the list of places to flee to.

I moved to NZ. Glad to get out of UK's weather and rat race.

Went to Hawaii for couple weeks one year ago. Experienced culture shock.

NZ is probably best place in the world.

As a Kiwi Expat, I beg to differ. Australia takes that title.

Better incomes, quality of living (houses are vastly better quality), infrastructure, entertainment, and weather.

Better salary and better entertainment. I gain first one by working remote, second don't care that much.

The downsides is extreme weather, too big cities and much less nice people (historical backgrounds between kiwis and aussies are polar opposites).

> NZ is probably best place in the world.

Unless you, say, like to travel, or want to live in a place with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Depends where you want to travel to, Australia, South East Asia, the west coast of the Americas, and the Pacific islands are all very accessible. There's also plenty of travel to do within New Zealand, because New Zealand runs north to south and is roughly the height of Europe there's a huge variety within a small space.

Also, NZ is pretty diverse. I work in Wellington and my team of 20 is from nine different countries and ethnicities, there's only four born Kiwi's in it (and the Kiwi's have different ethnicities as well some are Maori, others are Pakeha, and others are Indian Kiwis). I read about immigration statistics the other day and 8 of the top ten ethnicities which are granted permanent residents status are from Asia, the Pacific, and Africa, only two are from countries with a European majority (the UK and the US). I find Wellington to be more diverse than when I worked in San Francisco or London.

Last year we moved to place a bit outside city. Previously, waking up on weekends meant planning a hike somewhere. Now we are just like "hey it's pretty nice just to chill here, lets just stay home". Sure, travel is more about discovering something new, but from beauty side, it sometimes even annoys me how pretty NZ is.

Culture wise, I keep saying NZ is like 50s in US - tons of new expats, everyone with decent background, keen to work hard. Most of Europe and US has now second generation foreigners which is not that interesting. Simple number: software teams I worked on only had 10-30% of kiwi's.

> want to live in a place with people from a wide variety of backgrounds

Our largest city is also our most diverse.

> Auckland is one of the world's most culturally diverse cities with the fourth most foreign-born population, an international study has found. > With 39 per cent of its population born overseas, the city is revealed to be more diverse than Sydney, Los Angeles, London and even New York.


It's hard to define a good measure of diversity. Thankfully statisticians provide some options:


For some reason, the article you linked made up their own (very poor) measure of diversity. Imagine a city that's half white locals, and half white British immigrants (temporary or permanent). Would you consider such a city as diverse? The measure in that news article would put this city as being 50% diverse, even higher than Wellington's 39%.

(Grew up in Auckland, live in London.) IMO it takes some pretty incredible redefinitions of the word "diverse" to get Auckland to be more diverse than London.

NZ's pretty diverse. South Island less so as it's mostly rural.

Germany, Switzerland and Austria are competing for that title. (And there are official numbers backing that up). You get what you pay for.

Isn't NZ part of the five eyes?

It is; and they railroaded Kim Dotcom, breaking all their laws on due process, just to lick those sweet, sweet US boots.

Care to elaborate on that? Culture shock from what? What makes NZ the best?

If you're progressive then NZ is a good place with strong social support and networks. There's definitely plenty of faults but it's not nearly as bad as other countries in most cases.

There's also not the extreme rifts that we see elsewhere. If you look at reform for instance then there was broad cross party support for firearm reform, abortion reform, and euthanasia reform all in the last few months with both left and right parties voting for all of the above, something which would be pretty inconceivable in a country like the US where people seem to take opposite views on things just because they refuse to agree with the other side.

The population is largely free of extremists and have a culture of just getting on with things and working together, this comes from the extreme isolation which we've historically had. That leads to people being irreligious, educated, and practical.

It's very democratic and has very low levels of corruption, politicians are accessible and mostly trusted.

This is tempered by a high cost of living compared to wages.

Unfortunately we have seen a rise of US style far-right opinions and extreme views fed from the internet (like antivax and also a rise of disinformation and fake news). Ironically this may mean that politicians will be forced to become less accessible and democracy and freedoms may take a back seat to security as we've seen in the US. I hope not.

> irreligious, educated, and practical.

This is so true. People are just so multi-faceted here. I have a friend who's a developer, mechanic, investor, guitar player and a stripper.

Culture shock from drugs, homeless, guns and just this extreme lifestyle. Difficult to explain. We arrived from one island of paradise to other and sure, climate is better in Hawaii, but big cities, big trucks, big corp...

And then there was other side of anit-vax, anti-gmo, anti-progress people... We've got some of that in NZ, but nowhere close so visible.

> NZ is probably best place in the world.

Unless you're a woman of reproductive age.

A certain glass ceiling was nicely shattered by Ardern, NZ's PM. She's boosting NZ's respect abroad even further, if that was possible.

And she is working to improve NZ women's access to reproductive rights, but they're still well behind what should be expected of a civilized country.

Why is that?

Why is that?

The abortion laws are old and antiquated (from the 60s), basically a woman needs a doctors permission to get an abortion, in reality this isn't a problem with most doctors but it is demeaning.

There's a new law which just passed the first reading in parliament (with 80% voting yes) to remove any restrictions so thankfully this will no longer be an issue and a woman will be able to make the decision without having to go to a doctor.

So, while the laws are old it's actually positive that there's so much cross party support for progressive reform. Another law which is in it's second reading is euthanasia reform which has similar support.

I was just thinking about the grass isn't always greener kind of situation. Everyone hopes somewhere else is going to (have to?) be better than here. Where ever there/here actually are.

Absolutely right but moving to Australia has genuinely massively improved our standard of living beyond what i thought was even possible. I can't believe how good we have it here.

I almost didn't leave when I visited Australia and New Zealand. I telecommute, so it wouldn't matter if I was across the country or the planet. Plus, getting paid in US dollars living in NZ with the strong dollar would be like a pay raise. If only I had the 'get up and do it' enough to do it.

I work from home 25 days per month - I moved well away from the city, bought a massive house next to a beautiful surf beach and my kids could not be having a better time if they tried. My partner did the same. We make over 400k joint, all from home and in a very cheap part of the country. I can't even get over how lucky I am.

Don't flee, get involved and help fix things if you can!

Yes, he should just dedicate his life to toiling away at a problem he can't make an impact on while telling his kids and wife that he's very sorry that he can't give them a significantly better standard of living because he needs to help fix England.

No, I was miserable in the UK - I have better options elsewhere. I do not care enough about the UK to give it my life. The culture is locked in by hundreds of years of history, and a vast, vast majority of people like it the way it is.

Staying in the UK for me is like staying in an abusive relationship or a job you hate. It made me deeply unhappy, so instead of complaining and bringing my friends down I found a life to love overseas.

Fair enough. All any of us wants is happiness.

> is the US anything admirable lately?

Nope, the US is firmly in the Wants a Prize for Basic Decency[0] category. Which is better than most other places, but that says more about other places than the US.

0: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WantsAPrizeForBa...

> evidence from a detector van had never been submitted

How could it be, if the mechanism behind the detector is not made public?

Prosecutor: This machine says you are guilty.

Defendant: How does that machine work?

Prosecutor: You aren't allowed to know.

Defendant: ???

Judge: Case dismissed.

Sounds like typical legal stances on breathalyzers, speed cameras and red light cameras.

A bad breathalyzer can be challenged in court as "not scientifically reliable".


At first I read "bad breathalyzer" as one that tells you to use mouthwash, and not as the assumed intended bad=bogus wording.

Around here they are just used as part of a first step I think: if you fail it you'll be asked to go for a alcohol blood test.

And around here, they’ll just take you to the station for a more advanced breathalyzer test (Canada). Even though the police can compel a blood sample through a hospital, they don’t bother because the law doesn’t require it for a conviction.

A dog though is considered always reliable: https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/supreme-court-alert-by-a-t...

So maybe they should have used TV-sniffing dogs instead? :)

I wish I could remember the source of the statement: "To search someone's vehicle, a police officer needs a warrant signed by a judge or permission from a dog."

Well said, but in fact they don't need even that. They'd just say they smelled "strong marijuana odor" (the proof it isn't happened now on you, and how exactly you're gonna prove they didn't smell that?) or that a confidential informant (local junkie) told them he have seen a person looking like you doing whatever they want to accuse you of.

Qualified immunity pretty much guarantees there's no punishment for any shenanigan as long as it can be plausibly presented to a judge as the police believing it's lawful (it doesn't need to be lawful, just belief is enough). The worst they risk is evidence being excluded - so no risk at all vs not searching.

Subtly different situation -- a dog sniff is only an indicator of probable cause, while a breathalyzer may be presented as evidence of guilt.

That's what parallel construction is for!

Its the opposite. The TV vans were the parallel construction, they couldn't have worked but they were known to send licensing officers to look through peoples windows during prime TV watching hours.

Not the US.

yup even brushing your teeth and using mouthwash is not a stymie, often this is viewed as destruction/interference with evidence, if a cop can discover empty aloholic containers.

Brushing your teeth doesn't affect breathalyzer readings at all. Alcoholic mouthwash can give false positives for up to 20 minutes, and cops are supposed to wait and try again for that reason; you've got a good shot at getting it thrown out if they don't.

Here breathlyzers aren't evidence, they're probable cause. To be admissible they either need you to accept the result, or go custodial for a blood test.

around my parts, it would be tampering with evidence even if there is no proof or indicator that evidence of a crime existed, before "tampering" the brushing teeth and mouthwash is simply part of a power commuters hygene routine. in NY for example people use the time spent at traffic lights to do all sorts of things.

That's fucked up, I'm sorry. In most places in the US, cops would ignore it, because it doesn't do anything. Breathalyzers detect metabolized alcohol vapor from your lungs; nothing you can put in your mouth will stop that as long as there's alcohol in your bloodstream and you're still breathing.

oh dont be sorry its not your fault and interjections are valid, just to get things on track with the thread, this is about circumventing an authorities ability to detect an offence, and some authorities will assume innoccuous behaviour is evidence probable cause or reasonable suspicion, basically where im sitting, any circumstance you create that causes an investigation to go off script, can be interference if you intended to do it regardless of what you are trying to accomplish.

As a child in the 80s I remember my family being scared of this van even though it probably never existed. Because of this my mum got a pay TV instead which we had to put 50p coins in periodically that paid for both the TV rental and the license fee.

You had a coin-operated TV...? At home...? Did someone come regularly to collect the coins? I'm genuinely fascinated by this.

I also remember the coin operated tellys. Yes, every 6 months or there abouts the coiny-telly man would come about to collect the coins. It was a real hassle, as you had to be at your flat all that day. Otherwise, the coiny-telly man would just pass you up. Thing was, the little bin that the coins fell into would fill up every 9 months or so. So, if the coiny-telly man passed you up, you'd have to ration when you could watch TV. I remember the first time my mum made this mistake and the bin got filled. My pa was so angry that he didn't get to watch Emmerdale Farm and Whizz-Bizz that night as no more would fit in the machine. Well, we never made that mistake again.

I honestly can't tell if this is satire or not.

It's real. The TV rental companies had a range of approaches, one of which was the very expensive option of a coin operated TV. Another common way to pay was by book and visit the TV rental shop weekly to pay a little. If you had one of the coin ops, chances are your electric and gas were on coin operated meters too - with the landlord of your flat or bedsit setting their own markup on that meter...


Edit: To add some context:

Don't forget it was still common for people to be paid in cash, weekly. For those on lower incomes paying a monthly rental was often difficult and many of those cash employees had no need of a bank account. So weekly payments at the shop, collection agents and other options like coin op were far more common. You might get a visit every year or two to pay premiums on something like a life assurance policy, and a little hand written book was your only record of payment.

>> If you had one of the coin ops, chances are your electric and gas were on coin operated meters too - with the landlord of your flat or bedsit setting their own markup on that meter...

Some friends of mine who lived in London had an electricity meter that they had to recharge with cards they got from the corner shop. This was in 2005 or so. Do you know how common this is in London, or the rest of the UK, nowadays?

At the time I had found it at the very least a huge hassle. It was one of those things when I first got to the UK that I just couldn't comprehend.

Another one: when I got my first check from my job at the time (working at a warehouse) I went to the bank to collect it and the bank said I had to wait for a week to make sure the check wouldn't bounce and I think to ensure I wasn't money laundering. I couldn't believe what they were telling me, so I asked the people I worked with who confirmed it. Except, they said it wasn't a big deal: you just go to a shop, give them the check and they give you 80% of your salary. So you don't have to wait for a week.

So wait, I work all week, then the bank will treat me as a potential criminal and some financial parasite will suck off 20% of my salary as a consequence? And the people I worked with just shrugged it off. It was considered just normal. I told people Back Home (in Greece) about all this and they just didn't believe me.

>>Some friends of mine who lived in London had an electricity meter that they had to recharge with cards they got from the corner shop.

This still happens, but only if you are far behind on your electricity bills, the supply company will eventually just say "ok, we will keep supplying you, but you must agree to have pre-paid meter installed at home". That way you can't be late on your payments anymore.

>>Another one: when I got my first check from my job at the time (working at a warehouse)

Wait....that was in the UK? And someone gave you a cheque? Those pretty much don't exist in the UK anymore, it's like an ancient relic of the past if you see one. The only situation when they are still used is for insurance payouts, for some reason the insurance companies still prefer to send you a cheque.

>> That way you can't be late on your payments anymore.

Thanks for clarifying. I'm guessing though the meters tend to stay in the homes even after the late-paying tennants have moved out?

>> Wait....that was in the UK? And someone gave you a cheque?

Yes, this was in the UK, in the South East, in 2005. It's been a while so I'm a bit fuzzy on the details but I think what happened was that I didn't have a bank account yet and so I was paid by cheque (thanks). Also, if I remember correctly, I refused to make use of the shops and I subsisted on the money I had in my Greek bank account (that I could access from UK terminals with my Greek bank card) until I got a UK bank account.

Some of my colleagues made use of the shops they recommended to me though, so either they too got paid by cheque or more likely they basically took a loan out on their salaries. Which sounds less mad, but only until you see some of the rates for payday loans (as I gather you must have).

Card meters are what replaced the old coin in the slot meters - they're a set price from the utility, so no extra markup for the landlord any more. They're still a fairly expensive way to get fuel compared to monthly payments.

As gambiting says they;re often put in if you get behind on bills, but if you have poor credit or move into a flat that already has them I think it can be pretty damn difficult to get off them. Like some utilities make a charge or ask a deposit to get a normal meter put in again, even if that wasn't down to you in the first place.

So if you've haven't got much you tend to lose out 2 or 3 ways.

>> As gambiting says they;re often put in if you get behind on bills, but if you have poor credit or move into a flat that already has them I think it can be pretty damn difficult to get off them. Like some utilities make a charge or ask a deposit to get a normal meter put in again, even if that wasn't down to you in the first place.

Ah, thanks- I was wondering about that. I imagined it wouldn't be simple to take the meter off once it's on.

Not sure about emptying them, but the TVs with coin slots where a thing in the UK:


Not for the BBC license though: it was when TVs where expensive (in the 60s and 70s) and so some people could just rent one.

Probably sounds alien to US people, but UK was much poorer country, especially in workers areas...

They were originally a US innovation that were imported and duplicated in the UK!

See my sibling link. First thought of by the US International Telemeter Corporation in the late 40s or very early 50s.

You're right to highlight the point about the UK's former lack of wealth (as it's not obvious), but I was amused by the reference to "workers areas" - presumably "working class areas" as people have worked in pretty much all populated areas of the country since time immemorial.

Yes, working class, or worker as opposed to executive, office employee, etc...

I've never seen a coin-op TV, but "back when I were a lad" we had electricity on the same principle. IIRC (and this is dark & distant memory) it started off coin-op and transitioned to cards you had to buy from local stores.

It sounds a bit four Yorkshire men but these TVs and this service did exist.

Black Mirror is amazing because of this. I absolutely love British humor or is it humour?

I still know people in Dublin that have coin operated electricity, though I think nearly all of them have been moved to card based systems.

They had that in the mainland too. It was something which was forced on poor people and resulted in electricity prices considerably higher than they otherwise would have been.

My grandparents were forced to have one. My late grandfather had PTSD from fighting in WWII and could basically never hold down a job or make a good financial decision.

I've been to campsites where the showers are free, but the hot water requires coins. You really want to get your money's worth, but the fear of being lathered up and it going straight cold motivates you to be quick.

The Thatcher years were harsh. I imagine you also had free school meals as your main meal of the day.

The TV rental business was very much like mobile phone contracts. For this reason I am not one of those people that buys a mobile phone on contract with the 'upgrade' every two years. The 'contract' your family were on for the TV was 'pay as you go' and I shudder to think how often your family could have paid for the TV, probably ten times over!

The fear of the TV detector van kept people tuned in to what important stuff was being disseminated on the state broadcaster that pretends to be independent. Sure there were home computers, VHS/Betamax and 'the wireless' back then but screen based entertainment was limited.

The TV had four channels (if you were lucky), so that meant news every night about the latest Cold War tensions, the misery of the Miner's Strike, the joy of the Poll Tax riots, the obsession with inflation, the latest dole figures, what privatisation was being flogged, 'Protect and Survive' and messages about how heroin screws you up.

Remember there was no such thing as society, you just had to hide behind your door and rely on the 'neighbourhood watch' signs for security. Crime really was a thing then, burglary a fear far worse than it should have been. The BBC very much reflected this but we remember 'Life on Earth' and tell ourselves how wonderful the BBC was.

Icing on the cake for this miserable era was the actual BBC. Radio 1 was 'Smashy and nicey' DJs that were quite depressing and BBC children's programming had presenters that have invariably been prosecuted in recent years for child abuse related offences.

But at least we had a national conversation. Remember 'who shot JR?'. Nowadays people would be saving the box set to watch later so you can't have this shared conversation, if anything it is anything but.

> The fear of the TV detector van kept people tuned in [...]

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but that doesn't seem to me like it makes any sense. How could fear of being caught watching the TV without a licence make you more likely to watch the TV? It could make you more likely to pay, or less likely to have a TV, but those are entirely different.

> Remember 'who shot JR?'

All was revealed by Father Ted https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sq4_c-_r0K4

The Thatcher years were harsh

That's not really fair is it? They started harsh because the country was a wreck when she was first elected. The miners went on strike because they were used to being able to topple governments by doing so. The obsession with inflation came about in contrast to the previous obsession with employment figures, yielding a country with full employment but sky-high inflation. Thatcher argued that was wrong and you could have full employment with low inflation: several boom economies since then have shown she was correct.

After Thatcher had won three elections Britain was a first world country again. You don't see many people pining for Britain in the 70s with all the strikes, electricity outages, bailouts and 3 day weeks. Blame her for the poll tax, sure, but even then those riots were by people who wanted unfair taxation: they defined "fair" as some people having to pay more for the exact same services than others do, something nobody tolerates in the commercial world.

Remember there was no such thing as society

You're selectively quoting Thatcher here, as her ideological enemies do so often. She was pointing out that when her opponents said "society will pay for it" there was no such thing as an abstract, disconnected, third party entity labelled "society" that would magically inject money into Britain - that what such people really meant was "my neighbours will be forced to pay for it".


Here's the full quote:

But it [people living on benefits/blaming society for their problems] went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

Doesn't sound so bad when you realise her alternative to the word "society" was "a living tapestry and men and women and people", that this tapestry is "beautiful" and that the quality of our lives depend on "how much each of us is .... prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate".

It's ironic yet totally unsurprising that her argument against imprecise socialist double-speak is now usually referenced via a selective quote designed to make her look inhumane.

Wow, I never heard of this before. I found the following article and it was an interesting read:


I believe when you buy a TV retailers are required to take down your address

I bought one once and evidently they managed to typo the house number, so our neighbour down the street who didn't have a TV kept getting the 'we know you have a TV but no license threatening letters

You are absolutely correct, I worked in a well known UK electrical retailer in the 90s and we were indeed obligated to provide the names and addresses of everyone who bought a new TV to the TV Licencing Authority. (Last time I called it an "Authority" I was criticized for using "overly dystopian" language to describe it, but that's exactly what the legislation calls it too).

I researched this the last time TV detector vans came up (it seems to be on repeat on HackerNews a lot...), the legislation was repealed in 2013 so it's not done anymore. It was for sure this that was the real enforcement tool I imagine prior to 2013, rather than the mythical van. Much easier to just check the address against the TV sales database than randomly drive a fleet of vans around the entire country!

> https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/check-if-you-need-one/business...

>I believe when you buy a TV retailers are required to take down your address

Is this for real? I remember thinking "dystopian as hell" when I heard about all the CCTVs in England, but this one takes the cake. I can at least see the points made by the other side of the CCTV argument, even though I very much disagree with them.

Why cannot one just buy a TV in England without giving out their personal info?

The law was abolished in 2013. You were also free to give false information - I know a couple of people who gave their postcode as SW1A 2AA (they had a TV licence, they just didn't want to give their address to the retailer).

> The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1967 (as amended) has been repealed, meaning that from 25 June 2013 onwards you no longer need to send us customer name and address details when you sell or rent out TV equipment. This also means your business no longer has to keep sales records to comply with the law on TV Licensing. If you don’t need these records for anything else you can destroy them from 25 June.


For context, SW1A 2AA is the postcode for 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives. So it would be like giving "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" as your postal address.

Ah, I meant to mention that. Thanks for adding.

Good to know - this was before '13

The silly thing was our house had a license, plus the TV in question was only ever used for a games console so never received TV signals

It used to be true, the law changed a while ago.

The law wasn't "you must hand over your details when buying a tv", it was "you must ask for details when selling a tv". Customers were free to supply false information.

I did, I just change the first two letters of my postcode to another town over for all that crap.

In Israel you were used to be required to provide your equivalent of ssn upon purchase of a tv setm, so the gov would be able to charge you public tv fee. the fee was finally abolished couple years ago.

It is actually worse than this. They send out the letters (it often seems randomly) AND they will send someone to come to your house who will "inspect" your TV/demand entry/make threats...

...this is one of these utterly bizarre public sector things where the govt will hire a private company to chase down people (usually immigrants, unemployed, etc.) and give them a cut of whatever is looted...unsurprisingly, this has proved to be controversial in practice.

I have actually heard of people who called the police because they were being harassed by these people. All so some chinless wonder from Oxbridge can get paid £200k/year commissioning dogshit documentaries about Ethiopian trance music (the BBC massively underpays for talent but employs an unfathomably large number of middle managers).

I would love to see how this kind of system would work in Texas.

> ...this is one of these utterly bizarre public sector things where the govt will hire a private company to chase down people (usually immigrants, unemployed, etc.) and give them a cut of whatever is looted...unsurprisingly, this has proved to be controversial in practice.

This actually happened to me! I (Mexican living in the UK) was at my rented flat with my father visiting. We were watching a movie in a TV I had (which I mainly used to watch DVDs or things from my computer) when suddenly someone knocked at the door. I usually never opened (I did not have many friends while living there) but given that my father was there, it would have been weird to leave the person ringing the bell while we were watching the movie.

Turned out to be one of those license guys. As an expat without knowledge of my rights, I did not know what to do and the bastard kept pushing... until I let him in. He "inspected" the TV where we were watching the movie, and I told him that yeah I had a TV but did only use it for watching DVDs. At the end, he "saw" that it did not have an antenna and he basically said that because of that, we were OK (it kind of felt as if he just wanted to get out of the awkward situation).

After he left, my father and I talked about how crazy was that system were they send mafiosos to check if you had a TV... first world problems.

Yep, they actually have no power to search your premises (obv). They are, literally, just some guys herded off the street by a dodgy company that get paid a commission to squeeze money out/scare people.

Nonetheless, I have heard of them: forcing entry into people's homes, claiming to have powers of search, claiming to have power to issue fines, claiming to work on behalf of the police and that they can request arrest...it is kind of incredible.

Britain is a very odd place (I say this as a Brit).

As a foreigner, I could one-up your complaint with this:


  I live outside the UK. Can I use BBC iPlayer?
  BBC iPlayer is funded by the UK TV Licence
   and its use is restricted to UK residents only.

Not just TVs but the did this when you bought a VCR. I remember being required to give my name and address when buying a VCR back in the 90s from Comet. Otherwise I wasn’t allowed to buy it.

That seems to be true.

I once received a letter from TV licensing after I bought a TV USB dongle off Amazon...

Israel has similar system, and they regularly send scary letters to people not even owning the TV, and you have to prove it. If you don't, they could just deduct the fine from your bank account, and good luck proving anything or getting your money back, even if you never owned the TV and never watched public broadcast that TV license is supposed to pay for.

We cord cut and moved away from broadcast TV round about 2000, or a little earlier, yet retained a TV. It was far, far easier to get the BBC to see sense about licence status - either not needing one, or having one and they simply messed up details on moving or whatever, than it has been with Crapita. Since the BBC were forced to outsource it, in the early 00s, we found it simply wasn't worth bothering with. They were getting it wrong about our status over 50% of the time, despite following their "prove your innocence" hoops every year or two on the website, often the same day the letter or email was received.

Eventually we gave up and just let them inundate our paper recycling. They've been comically useless. I am certain after 15 years of their incompetence, Capita have been responsible for many an unsafe conviction.

After the stories I'd heard, I was expecting something like this, but I lived in a flat in the UK without paying for a TV license earlier this decade, and heard almost nothing from them. They sent me one letter, about six months after I moved in, saying I should pay a license fee. I returned it checking the "don't have a TV" box, and I don't recall ever getting hassled after that.

If memory serves from when I used to work for a retailer (some 30 years ago now) we were required to submit the name & address of anyone who rented/bought a TV. I think they just tallied this list against their database.

The warrant revealed that a BBC contractor had used an "optical detector" to reveal the possible presence of a TV.[10] The warrant stated that: "the optical detector in the detector van uses a large lens to collect that light and focus it on to an especially sensitive device, which converts fluctuating light signals into electrical signals, which can be electronically analysed. If a receiver is being used to watch broadcast programmes then a positive reading is returned." [10] The BBC stated that this was strong evidence that a set was "receiving a possible broadcast".

According to The Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office, "where the BBC still suspects that an occupier is watching live television but not paying for a licence, it can send a detection van to check whether this is the case. TVL detection vans can identify viewing on a non‐TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set. BBC staff were able to demonstrate this to my staff in controlled conditions sufficient for us to be confident that they could detect viewing on a range of non‐TV devices."


That device description is entirely consistent with a video camera, perhaps with a telescope in front of it, used for peering through people's windows.

Does this put the BBC at risk of violating anti-peeping-Tom legislation?

No, it sounds like a telescope focusing onto a single pixel (i.e. just the back of the curtains), and then using the output from this pixel with a lock-in amplifier tied to the broadcast signal. The sensitivity would be enormous due to the lock-in.

With a CRT you would be able to do this with <microsecond resolution as the scan lines went across.

In today's LCD world, I guess something similar could be done for a whole pixel-average of a whole frame, and then look at the time-series of that to correct for lag in digital television / internet etc..

So it's using a telescope and a camera to see what's going on in your house (albeit hopefully in a very limited way)...

In the US that'd be an illegal search without a warrant.

To look in your open window, even with a telescope? I don't think that is considered illegal.

In California, Penal Code 647(j):

(1) A person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivision does not apply to those areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.

I think you're really misinterpreting that.

All the example places given are ones you'd likely be frequently undressed. I'm not sure I'd argue I have an expectation of privacy in the living room with the curtains open - people walking on the sidewalk by my house see in mine all the time.

Attorney here! (Not providing legal advice - consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.)

You're trying to leverage a "peeping Tom" law to frustrate law enforcement, and that is unlikely to succeed.

The key qualifier here is "with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside." Law enforcement activities are unlikely to satisfy this prong.

Does that mean the police are allowed to invade my privacy like that if they're just "checking for potential illegal activity"?

No, just that you cannot use a statute like the peeping tom one against Law Enforcement in the same way you'd use it against an average joe.

But also, yes, the police can do basically anything and receive "Qualified Immunity" as actors of the state. Under the current interpretation of qualified immunity unless the police know what they are specifically doing isn't allowed then they have immunity, and the court system gets SUPER specific with the facts to the point that pretty much any action gets immunity. The state itself might be in trouble but that's a whole other mess of immunity.

I'm not a lawyer though and I'm almost certainly messing up some of the nuance here.

Qualified immunity is a creature of federal Constitutional law; it exists to immunize law enforcement from civil suits alleging that they violated someone's Constitutional rights. The doctrine does not immunize officers against criminal charges, particularly crimes against the laws of the States.

"Privacy" isn't (yet) a Federal civil or constitutional right so I'm not sure that qualified immunity would apply. The intent qualifier in the Peeping Tom law is probably sufficient since the intent is not to violate someone's privacy but to follow up on some sort of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Also if people can see through your window doing ordinary (non-traditionally-"private") activities, there's the "plain view" doctrine -- although that's related to admission of evidence and not a prima facie criminal law violation. Nevertheless a Court is probably going to use similar reasoning when divining intent.

Thanks for clarifying! My knowledge of the law is second-hand. Comments like this help a lot!

If it's just a sensor on the other end of the telescope then it's not a person.

I don't know about a lay-person, but any government agent (police, a tv-detector-van driver, whatever) cannot act on the results of a search that was done without a warrant (or probable cause and some exigency).

People's houses are especially sacred in US law and even flying a plane over and looking for excessive heat signatures to find Marijuana growers was deemed an illegal search (someone linked to that case in another comment)

The relevant SCOTUS case is probably Kyllo.


In the US no one cares if you buy a TV and set up some rabbit ears or whatever you want with it, especially not the government

The only things we (Americans) allow our government to exercise that amount of control over are psychoactive drugs/plants and female reproductive rights. With things like AR15s or TVs we require unfettered access with no paper trail, but if you want Adderall you'll need 3-sheet triplicate DEA forms and it's a federal crime in all 50 states to possess a growing number of naturally occurring plants and fungi.

This is an inflammatory comment.

"Naturally occurring plants" are illegal in all of the EU as well. Also it's a logical fallacy[2]. Lots of naturally occurring things can have very bad effects on society. Caster beans are natural (and legal). Should we allow people to grow and process them and sell ricin by the vial - after all, it's a naturally occurring protein, right? Should we allow people to grow, process, and sell naturally occurring anthrax bacteria?

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20643883

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature

Close reading clears up a simple misunderstanding; "The only things we (Americans) allow our government to exercise that amount of control over are psychoactive drugs/plants and female reproductive rights..." Ricin has nothing to do with female reproductive rights and isn't known to be psychoactive.

Not to mention lawn darts or kinder eggs

Us kids always made lawn darts for ourselves with scrap rebar and an old chopsaw with a cracked switch that shocked you...

If you delayed the program onto your TV/laptop/whatever by some number of seconds, that surely would defeat the detector, though, of course, the detector could look for this. A better way to defeat it would be to play two programs on the same or two TVs near each other, then the two signals would interfere in a way that should confuse the detector.

Blackout curtains (which I recommend for other reasons), would work best though.

It could have a <1Hz signal encoded on the average brightness of the screen.

It does look like something crazy that could be made to work reasonably well with a lot of polishing.

It's not a video camera in the conventional sense, necessarily.

You could also collect unfocused light emissions, such at those reflecting from walls and ceiling, and correlate their luminance and chroma fluctuations over time with those of live TV. This would not intelligibly perceive non TV light signals, and so be less of a privacy concern. Additionally this would work if the TV's image is not visible.

Sounds like they are analysing the dynamics of whole-frame integrated brightness change. You don't really need any spacial resolution for that, just enough for separating houses/flats. A single-pixel camera with sufficient aiming, anything beyond that just requires mow processing. I don't know the specific legislation but I'd expect them to be safe.

I would think the stray light from a CRT strobing at 50Hz could be picked up by a photodiode and some amplification.

The point of the 'detection' was to just see if a TV was in operation and not to see what was being watched.

Too many false positives: recorded videos, video games, computers

There's a bit too much confusion as to what era the BBC vans might have been using optical means instead of RF means.

In the 1950s there wasn't much else on British television sets other than the BBC, right?

It doesn’t matter, the offence is “watch TV without a license” (and previously was, I think, “possess a device capable of watching TV”), not specifically the BBC.

(iPlayer is not important to this discussion but complicates things a bit).

Presumably you could compare it to a reference signal, i.e. what is being broadcast right at that moment? Hence the TV aerials on the roof of the vans?

Ever seen the flickering light of a television behind someone's curtains?

Ever seen an app that can identify what song is playing?

"Does this put the BBC at risk of violating anti-peeping-Tom legislation?" Er, you'd have to be more specific. I'm not familiar with that legislation.

In the USA, laws against looking in someone's house on purpose are called "peeping Tom" laws.

Generally they specify that it's not a problem if you do not intend to violate anyone's privacy and don't take any steps to improve your sightline; conversely, if you intend to look into someone's house and you take any active measure to do so, you're in violation.

It's a funny term since the (legendary) original "peeping Tom" was a man looking out from inside his house at someone naked in the public streets.

Sexual Offences Act 2003, S67 and S68: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/42/section/67

IANAL, but most of that law looks to me like spying is only an offence if done with sexual intent; and while the rest of that law might make it an offence if the occupants are nude, that depends if other commenters here are correct to claim the detector is only one pixel (one pixel alone can’t reasonably be considered “a picture” of intimate parts).

I currently have no TV licence. I cancelled it over a year ago as I don't receive a TV signal in my flat. The TV is used for netflix, Amazon Prime, Youtube and the Playstation.

I filled out the form to get my refund and you have to choose an option for why you don't need a TV. e.g. you are moving, you are in the military, gone blind or something etc etc. Not an option to tick "I don't watch TV".

Anyway, I got the refund and within a week I was getting threatening letters from them saying I don't have a TV licence!

Great joined up IT guys. The letters have continued at a rate of one or two a month ever since.

I could probably make them stop by calling them, but I already filled out the form, I got my refund... I don't see why I should waste more of time helping them out.

I expect at some point someone is going to come to my flat and request to see in the flat to check I'm not watching TV without a licence. If they do they won't be getting let in.

It's the tone of the letters that is most annoying, they are quite threatening and they try to be intimidating. I can laugh it off and just bin there nonsense and ignore it, but I could see some people getting upset / intimated into paying, which is sad.

I get these letters regularly. On principle I refuse to deal with Capita/BBC/TVL and would rather they waste the money trying to contact me. There is no obligation to deal with them unless they get a warrant. Only once have they visited and left a calling card but fortunately I was out.

Watching television without a licence in the UK is actually a criminal (rather than civil) offence, and hundreds of thousands of purple are convicted each year of the offence.


Wow, that article almost reads like a 1st of April joke. Why doesn't it affect your credit score, unlike non-payment of an electric/gas bill? I reckon that would make more people pay for it.

I kept getting these letters for years, even though I did not have a TV, or antenna.

To be clear, this only applies to television that is paid for by the license (BBC etc, including streaming via iPlayer). I have a television and use it only to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and am thus not required to pay the license. Which goes to show how ridiculous these vans are, since they can't tell where you're getting the content you're watching.

This is incorrect advice that could get someone convicted.

A licence is required if you watch live TV on any channel.

See: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/faqs/FAQ95

Netflix and Amazon prime are not TV and don't require a TV licence.


But indeed, watching any channel on TV (not just the BBC) requires a licence.

I think they make it incredibly clear in their message though:

If you’re watching live TV, you need to be covered by a TV Licence:

   a. if you’re watching on TV or on an online TV service 
   b. for all channels, not just the BBC
   c. ...

> You don’t need a TV Licence if you only ever use these services to watch on demand or catch up programmes [...]

I would think that Netflix and Amazon are considered on demand services.

Netflix and amazon are not considered live TV.

iPlayer isn't either, but they've recently put in an exception for that.

Incredibly vague, does a live stream fall afoul of that rule?

I believe it specifically refers to services that provide simulcast streams of traditional TV networks. Like Playstation Vue or Youtube TV.

Is that live stream being shown on tv while you are watching it? Yes or no? Same answer for having the tv license.

Netflix and Amazon aren't live.

Say I watch UFC 241 on my TV. It's live, it's on TV. I paid through it using the UFC app.

https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/faqs/FAQ95 is pretty clear that I have to pay.

Why, ethically, should I be obliged to pay TVLA (and therefor the BBC) for something they didn't create or facilitate?

It’s not incorrect. Netflix and Amazon are not live TV. (Perhaps you missed the “etc” after BBC?)

You claimed: "this only applies to television that is paid for by the license [...]"

That is incorrect. It doesn't matter whether the content was paid for by the licence or not. If you are watching live TV, you need a licence.

Please provide an example of a live television channel in the UK that has not received any funds from the licence fee. To my knowledge, even small local channels receive funding which is directly traceable to the licence fee, though of course the BBC gets the lion's share.

Sounded like they do have technology to tell what content you are watching, which is even more ridiculous.

It would've been borderline-possible in the days of over-the-air television - the first local oscillator in the TV is going to be tuned to a frequency directly related to the channel being watched, so RF leakage would make the channel detectable.

If you can get any light fluctuation reading at all from the room, you could correlate that with the live channel broadcast and get a match.

Which content you’re watching isn’t actually relevant, it’s where you are getting the content from. I could be watching a programme via an on-demand service at the same time as it’s shown on live TV, and I still wouldn’t need a license.

If what you are watching is live TV, it doesn't matter what device or service you use to watch it.

It doesn't matter if you're streaming it, watching it via a service like All 4, ITV Hub, etc. If it is live TV, you need a licence.

See: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/check-if-you-need-one/topics/L...

I specifically used the word on-demand, which is not live TV...

How about a small flat fee everybody pays to sustain the national broadcaster?

Whether they watch it or not is not relevant. It's a nation-wide service at their disposal.

Either it's worth it to have, like a dam or a highway system or whatever, and it's ok for people to pay for it in taxes, or it's not, and it should close.

Because now you're proposing that people be charged for something even if they don't use it and don't want it.

Yes. In many countries that's how nation-wide infrastructure, services, art programs, and so on are funded. Not on a person per person basis.

Not everywhere it's all about the individual and their whims. If the majority (well, through elected representatives) wishes to have and sustain a public good (whether a public broadcaster, or national health service, or arts grants, or whatever), individuals have no other say on the matter.

Some countries believe in public goods, and in maintaining through taxes infrastructure to make citizens more educated, informed, cultivated, etc. If someone is a brut and could not care less, they don't get to dictate to the nation not to have those services.

E.g. the German example of the tax for the national broadcaster a fellow commenter mentions:

"Any household in Germany is legally obliged to pay this quarterly fee, regardless of whether or not you watch the TV channels or listen to the radio stations covered by it. It also covers media consumption online via on-demand services such as media players, streaming services accessed online via computer or smartphone, as well as in-car audio. Shared households are only required to pay this per household, so 4 students living together for example would only be liable for paying the fee once."

I don't mind that for infrastructure (roads, power grid) and core services (police, fire dept), but TV is not a requirement. Or rather, entertainment is not a requirement for life. If they want public funding for a channel for emergency broadcasts then I wouldn't object too loudly (other than questioning value vs radio and web).

By that logic though you should be able to only contribute for the specific programming you watch. As in "I agree with paying for BBC news, but not kid's programming".

In Australia we fund the ABC and SBS through tax, which have charters requiring a certain amount of locally produced programming, and serve as publicly owned news media (which I think is in the public interest so long as the government isn't exerting too much in the way of influence), as well as programming that could be considered too niche to be profitable otherwise.

When I was a teenager SBS was how I was exposed to some really good stuff I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise because it was anime or foreign language films.

Yes please! I 100% support unbundling and buying exactly what I actually want

Edit: It took a reread for me to realize that you were actually arguing in favor of it. I do see your point about positive externalities, but I'm still not convinced it's a good trade off overall.

>but TV is not a requirement. Or rather, entertainment is not a requirement for life

Well, life is more than the base "requirements". Humans are not wild animals that only understand bare utility, so some societies/states can acknowledge that and also provide some "non-requirements".

Besides TV (and cultural products in general) is not universally viewed as mere "entertainment", but also as information, culture building, citizen development, and so on. Some nation states do trust themselves to have capable people to provide quality programming -- whether many of their folks just care to watch reality shows and entertainment or not.

Yes, that's life in the modern world. My taxes go to pay for all sorts of government programs that I don't use. This is mostly fine.

e.g. wars

The use those, in the form of cheap oil and global trade hegemony

That's the solution in Germany since a few years. It is called Rundfunkbeitrag and costs 20€ per month per flat.

What is this, communism? /s

You might think these vans were crazy then, what's more crazy today is how they continue to force their opt-out licensing upon everyone like it's still 1946 and they are the only broadcasters in town.

If you live in the UK and own a TV you must pay the BBC whether you want the BBC or not!

I'm one of the minority who don't own a TV in the UK and even then they make it their business to inform me every two years about all the different ways they can invade my home, fine me extortionate sums and send me to prison for the crime of being caught owning television signal receiving equipment without paying them.

Given how nasty all the smart TVs are these days, when I eventually want such luxuries I plan to eventually get a huge monitor and just play netflix or whatever on it... it would be interesting to see their response to that.

To be clear, a licence is required to watch live TV on any channel, not just the BBC.

I wonder how they define "live TV"? If i watch a live video stream over the internet does it count?

I suspect they basically mean the reception of any terrestrial RF TV signal not really caring about it being live, but due to not wanting to go to the trouble of differentiating between BBC and freeview?

It would count - the definition is deliberately broad ("by any means"):

> In this regulation, any reference to receiving a television programme service includes a reference to receiving by any means any programme included in that service, where that programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public by virtue of its being broadcast or distributed as part of that service.



If you are only watching Netflix / Amazon etc on Demand programs you do not need a TV licence.

> "If you live in the UK and own a TV you must pay the BBC whether you want the BBC or not!"

This isn't true.

> You need a TV Licence to watch or record live TV, no matter where it is broadcast or distributed from. This includes satellite or online streamed programmes from outside the UK or Channel Islands, such as sporting events and foreign shows.


> If you’re watching live TV, you need to be covered by a TV Licence: [...] for all channels, not just the BBC


In the UK you pay the BBC for not watching the BBC.

Yes. I was replying to your comment ("If you live in the UK and own a TV you must pay the BBC whether you want the BBC or not!") that suggested that merely owning a TV meant you have to pay the license fee.

> If you’re watching live TV, you need to be covered by a TV Licence: [...] for all channels, not just the BBC

Is this not because part of the license fee goes to the upkeep of the transmitters and other infrastructure which all terrestrially broadcast channels use?

That is partly true, but I think it's mostly so that you can't just claim you only only watch reruns of Family Guy on E4 and therefore shouldn't have to pay.

For most people it is though. They don't want to take the risk even if they don't use a TV...

Sure, but I was responding to the idea that literally just having a TV means you have to pay it. But ye for most people having a TV is synonymous with having a TV license.

I remember at uni though having to have a TV license, even not having a TV, to watch iPlayer. And there is no such thing as a communal license in halls.

While reading I thought, "for sure we will get to the part of the article where the British realized their folly and discontinued the licensing." But that part never came. Brits: is this for real, does this still exist? Do you pay a license to use your TV? Is it only for OTA programming or using the device in general?

We pay the licence fee to fund the BBC. They make some amazing documentaries (Planet Earth, Blue Planet etc). They also have radio stations, all advert free. Being advert free is rare these days.

That's fine, a well funded public broadcaster is a great idea. The question is why in the world is it done as a license fee instead of as a much simpler to implement tax or a subscription where the OTA broadcasts are encrypted and a fee is paid to maintain the ability to decrypt.

It's political. There's no parliamentary support for a general tax, but no public support for getting rid of the BBC. The Tories in particular hate the Beeb, but the public love it (contrary to the rather negative comments here).

So the tax lives on in this archaic form instead and every now and then when the Tories are in power they try and defund or threaten the BBC somehow. Usually within a year of getting elected, and then there's a backlash and they have to back down.

The latest wheeze was to force the BBC to get pensioners to pay, and they managed to pull it off by getting the public to blame the BBC instead of the government.

A similar system in Germany (where we are constantly amazed at how much better content the BBC produces) is not a tax to minimize government influence. The goal is to make it public, but not government controlled.

Personally I think that it should be organized like a tax nonetheless, because if a public broadcaster is a benefit to society, it's a benefit to those who watch just as much as to those who don't watch, similar to how those who don't enter medical school will still enjoy the availability of doctors. A precedence exists, in Germany the Finanzamt is happily collecting a tax-like thing on behalf of the established churches from their members, without that ever having led anyone to suggest that the churches were controlled by the government. The investure controversy isn't exactly still lingering.

The current system was started after WWII (I think), so keep that in mind. If they were rolling it out today, it probably would be implemented differently.

We have / had a tax but not licence fee funded channel already: Channel 4.


Although they're mostly funded by ads and selling their programming now.

Channel 4 has never been funded by taxes as far as I'm aware. That wikipedia page states it was paid for by the ITV companies paying for the right to put adverts on it, and now funds itself from it's own advert sales.

Channel 4 is a bit of an odd one, as it's publically owned but not publically funded.

Well, one reason is to reduce the tax numbers on paper. Sort of like council tax - it's not a "real" tax, until you refuse to pay it that is.

The radio stations are free from commercial adverts but they're bound by the same logistical problems as other radio stations, meaning a decent proportion of airtime is listening to the same adverts for other BBC radio shows over and over.

If it's just to fund the BBC then why is the TV license necessary for watching other TV channels live as well?

> We pay the license fee to fund the BBC. And the rest of us is glad you do. You have my thanks.

You need a licence if you watch live TV as it's broadcast, or if you watch BBC iPlayer catchup content.

You need a licence for any device that you watch live tv as it's broadcast. You need a licence to watch live tv, no matter where it's broadcast from.

The wording of the law says "installed or used to receive", so in theory you need a licence if you have eg a tv plugged into an aerial. They don't prosecute those cases any more.

You don't need a licence if you're not watching live tv. So you can watch all the ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 catchup as much as you like. Or netflix, amazon, HBO, etc services.

People pay for it because the BBC is generally pretty good. It's stuck in a weird political landscape where some MPs want the BBC to be independent and not be funded by a licence fee, but those same MPs refuse to allow the BBC to operate commercially.

A longer term plan for the BBC would be welcome, and that's probably going to be a subscription service at some point.

"Installed" usually meant "aerial plugged in and stations tuned in".

Plug in and tune only the radio stations - that doesn't require a licence (radio isn't TV even when carried on a TV network, the TV effectively becomes a DAB radio).

Record and time-shift it so that it is no longer "live TV?"

You still need a licence to timeshift.

See: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/faqs/FAQ95

The was quite a while where iPlayer was covered by their law, there was another loophole where if your watching it on an untethered device (on a battery with wifi) that wasn't covered either, but I'm not sure now...

The whole law is antiquated, now you don't need them or their transmission equipment. I do believe that if they move to a subscription model they will lose many customers, especially those with Netflix etc (I don't even know if the aerial cable in my flat works or even own a tv, I use a 43" monitor if I do want to watch anything).

The rules recently changed and people now need a licence to watch content on BBC iPlayer.

If you own a licence and you're away from home you're allowed to use a device powered only by internal batteries to watch TV -- this is covered by your home licence.

Yes, this leads to ridiculous situations. You watch live tv on your phone? Fine, until you plug in your phone to charge and you're now breaking the law. I don't think anyone has been prosecuted for this type of use.

Sorry, I meant to say "receive", not "watch".

We used to have B&W licences, and people with colour VCrs but B&W tvs were told that they were receiving in colour and so needed a colour licence.

This kind of thing makes TV licencing unpopular.

It's only for OTA programming or to watch BBC online streaming services. You don't need one for eg watching Netflix or playing games.

In Switzerland, you have to pay the tax if you could possibly watch TV at home, so just having a TV or even no TV and an internet connection makes the tax mandatory, even if you don’t French/German/or Italian.

The inspector got me at my apartment once and was certain that I needed to pay the tax. I invited him into my apartment and he saw I had no TV, radio, or Internet, and left very disappointed.

Yes, it still exists. A TV Licence is required to watch any television programme live as it is broadcast. This applies to online live streams of TV channels, even if viewed on a PC or mobile phone.

It is legal to use a TV set without a licence, so long as you do not watch any TV programmes live. So it's fine to connect it to a laptop and use it as a monitor, or listen to radio programmes through it, for example.

> so long as you do not watch any TV programmes live.

Law was changed in the last few years to make this applicable to on-demand content too from BBC iPlayer

The best part of the TV licence, I think, is that blind people get a 50% discount.

You also get a discount if you're still using a black-and-white TV.


Hold on a sec.

If your blind you get a 50% discount, but if you have a B&W TV you get a 66% discount?

Blind people are being robbed blind...

What if you're blind AND have a black-and-white TV?

It does, and it's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, but I suspect it'll be discontinued within the next decade or so and the BBC will become something sane like a normal subscription channel.

Anecdotally I've noticed a sea change in general-topic UK discussion fora over the past five years or so. It used to be the case that anyone criticizing the BBC was downvoted to oblivion, but the old reverence for it as an institution is very much a minority view now.

EDIT: it's not just us, by the way; the US is actually in a small minority of countries who've never had a TV tax.


I'm not sure I'd agree that there's been some "backlash" - on any discussion, both sides will quite happily criticize the BBC for bias, which I take to be a good thing.

The funding model behind the BBC is a bit suspect - I'd prefer a direct grant from the government.

Alternatives are not particularly palatable - it becomes a department of the government, or has to self fund and becomes just another commercial provider of dross.

You might be replying to the wrong comment; I never mentioned "backlash". Less popular, less relevant, less trusted, yes.

I think they were shortening your words "It used to be the case that anyone criticizing the BBC was downvoted to oblivion" to "backlash".

Also I haven't heard about the BBC becoming less popular, do you have any evidence for this? As far as I recall, BBC 1 is still the nation's favourite channel.

It would be interesting to know how you voted in the EU referendum, as I tend to find this sort of anti-BBC-ness the greatest amongst Leave voters for no apparent logical reason.

No, that sentence was about a strong pro-BBC sentiment; goldcd's "backlash" is about a hypothetical anti-BBC one.

I stopped owning a TV way back in 2004, specifically out of disgust at the BBC piling in to the property bubble insanity along with everyone else. If that's what "noncommercial" buys you, I don't really see the point.

And I think the drift is less about the popularity of BBC TV channels versus non-BBC TV channels, than about the move to streaming and other Internet versus TV in general.

This is such nonsense. In my opinion the BBC should be paid for by a proper tax, as an informed public benefits everyone, or they should just give up on calling it a license. The people going around houses just send threatening letters, and act as though they have some right to enter your home and inspect it (they don't). They go around terrorising people who don't know their rights, but don't watch TV anyway. I routinely get threatening letters from them despite not having a TV on the premises.

The British government has a legal obligation to conduct all business in the least sensible manner available. It's in the Magna Carta.

In fact the system of government is derived from strange ladies lying in lakes distributing swords.

If I went around saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

Given that the parent posters user name is Excalibur, I think they are okay with that.

I very much enjoy the right to opt out of paying for the BBC, whose programming I no longer have any interest in watching. I'm extremely glad that it's not paid for by a compulsory tax.

But you have to opt out of watching all live tv for your method to work.

I haven't had live TV at home for the last 9 years. We spent a week at a cabin few weeks ago which had a TV and my wife put it on out of curiousity - I think I was mostly just shocked that people pay for this crap, you get like 15 minutes of whatever programme followed by 5 minutes of ads? In 2019? And people still pay a licence for this? Insanity.

"5 minutes of ads"

thats not the BBC then is it.

It was ITV or Dave or whatever the channel was called. Doesn't matter though, still requires a paid TV licence.

Not been an issue for about 7 years, Netflix and Amazon Prime about cover me for anything I want to watch when I do decide to watch.

Swedish public service transitioned from a per-household fee (for households that held devices capable of showing RF broadcast TV) to a per citizen tax January 1st this year. Of course, they go to great lengths to avoid calling it a tax, but... well, it is a tax.

I don't really like it. There's no opt-out any longer. And the content is predictably all-consuming leftist.

Canada's national broadcaster (the CBC) is funded out of general tax revenue, which I appreciate. Extremists on both sides complain that it leans too far the other way, which is probably a good sign overall. Certainly the CBC coverage pulls no punches when discussing our famous Liberal government scandals.

Other than as a news organization, another part of why it exists is to purchase and stimulate the developments of home-grown content (Little Mosque on the Praire, Schitt's Creek, Kim's Convenience, etc). For this reason, it has sometimes raised eyebrows in the past when it has purchased licenses to air mainstream Hollywood films, especially if doing so competes against private broadcasters like CTV.

If you think (centrist) Swedish public broadcasting is all-consuming leftist, I have really bad news about the current (centrist, but notionally centre-left) Swedish government!

The current Swedish government is centrist on money issues, and very leftist on cultural issues. The same goes for the public broadcasting.

Sweden has the immigration policy of a generic Western state (but accepts some more refugees) and the national broadcaster is as centrist as they come, putting out all sorts of things leftists wouldn't particularly like. Your political perception is warped.

per-household broadcast fee in Ireland too its 160eur per year, but I believe the avoidance rates are quite high and lots of 'tv' is streamed now which doesn't (I don't think qualify).

Norway is doing the same thing starting next year, and I really like it, even though the content is increasingly getting predictably all-consuming right wing as each year goes by. ;)

I actually bought my very first TV (since I discovered I was able to download South Park and The Simpsons and watch it on my computer in the early 2000s) a few months ago hoping to make the cut off so I would be able to say I'd paid the old license at least once in my lifetime (the license is divided into two payments per year), but it seems like the webshop I bought it from was nice enough to not supply my address info to the licensing office in time as I haven't received any bill. Oh well.

A Norwegian friend told me this a few years back; how the licensing people can just go into your homes when they show up and check for the presence of TVs. Crazy.

Well your Norwegian friend was wrong about that. All they could do was knock on your door and ask you if you had a TV, and you could more or less politely tell them you didn't and that would be the end of it, even if you did own one and it was on and both you and the license guy was able to hear it playing in the background. :)

Danish public service bias to the left: ~ 0/5

Norwegian public service bias to the left: ~1/5

Swedish public service bias to the left: ~4/5

This is one of the reasons why I make such a point to not pay for the TV license (apart from, you know, not watching broadcast TV). I'm all for my tax to be increased marginally to pay for the operation of the BBC, but I am very much against these additional taxes added on top. Just send me one tax bill a year and I'll pay that.

It's not only the UK. After the war, Japan used BBC as a model for the national broadcasting media, and the NHK essentially copied the same BBC TV license policy, including its aggressive attempts to collect TV fees (although the NHK doesn't have TV detector vans...) It has been challenged in courts but the verdict, just like the BBC, is that the fee is mandatory if you watch TV.

In Japan you only have to pay if you have a device with a working TV tuner, this includes car navigation systems with broadcast TV tuners (there are lots of these in Japan!) However, the BBC rule of watching live TV on any device appears to be a completely different test of legality to Japan.

Interestingly enough ‘NHK Kara Kokumin Wo Mamoru Tou’ (The ‘Protect Citizenry from NHK’ Party) won a seat in Japanese parliament at the recent national election!

Be it Japan or UK, it is quite the anachronism to mandate enforcement of even a government broadcaster’s business model. Doing so regardless of how much use or benefit you get, makes it a sort of regressive tax.

Then there’s the issue of the cost to enforce licensing.

Wait what, this is still going on today? I thought this was a historical thing.

What if you buy a TV for "offline" use only (i.e. Nintendo Switch)?

You need a TV licence if you watch or record TV as it's broadcasted (or shortly afterwards) or if you use iPlayer.

You go on a website, enter your address, confirm like 3 times that no, you don't use your TV to watch live programmes and that's it, you won't get another letter for a couple years at which point you just need to re-confirm that again.

You need a licence if you receive live tv as it's broadcast, or if you watch BBC iPlayer (a video on demand "catch up" service).

You don't need a licence if you don't watch live tv as it's broadcast.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact